Funnybook Babylon

September 22, 2008

FBBP #73 – Superman Loves Us All

Filed under: Podcasts — Tags: , , , — Pedro Tejeda @ 11:33 pm

Pedro, Jamaal and Joseph get together for a chat on Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely’s freshly concluded All-Star Superman. Is Superman prophet or messiah? Unsurprisingly, Joseph ends up the contentious dissenter on this matter, though he loved the book as much as anyone else. The first half of the series is available now, if you can’t wait for the inevitable Absolute Edition.

13 Comments »

  1. Just to clear up the argument. What the somewhat ill-spoken gentleman was trying to say is that from his “atheistic” perspective and (Jeffersonian) understanding of Jesus, Jesus is just a profit with a good message. The problem came from his inability to understand that others think the message is secondary to his messianic qualities.

    Comment by adam aaron — September 23, 2008 @ 1:41 am

  2. “His compassion wasn’t tested.”

    But dude, the entire issue 9 was him “giving the other face” until he fucks up and sets fire to his bully Lombard’s hair-piece, instantly becoming the bully (to the disappointment of Jimmy and Lois). But it’s easily the worst issue, since he’s helped by the disease ex machina.

    His feats were rarely through physical strength, IIRC. He basically doesn’t punch anyone until Luthor in 12 (and grabbing Solaris’ heart). His challenges were always through emotional trials, as to who he really is (in his conflicts with Lois who won’t believe him anymore after years of abusing her trust), in the acceptance of time and death in 6 (as well as being in peace with never saying a proper goodbye to his dad, and death as a positive harvest in the form of a ‘legacy’ of compassion and transformation — or teen Clark getting the grips that there’s more things to this world than he thinks he knows now and losing the certainty that he knows everything already in his teenage-ish suspicious and semi-cynical outlook that keeps him on the farm that parallels Superman’s anxieties towards change in the face of death), his doubts on the amount of his intervention in 9 (and how he does intervenes in a positive way in his passive zen way — behaviour, morals, compassion, architecture, vehicles, technology etc, which falls into the “prophet” line you were discussing), Quintum resting any potential fear on whether Superman’s efforts and actions (and his life, really) were worth it in his underground tour on 1 (that his poisoning was more indictative of his nobility and progress for humanity than him being Luthor’s sap or something to that effect), him maintaing distance from Atlas and Samson’s stances while teased, his fears in what mankind would become after he’s gone in 10, his “bottled up frustration” (/black kryptonite) in always having to be there for Jimmy in 4, how bottle-city Krypton-folks are too scared and conservative in 10, resting Zibarro’s primadonna “unique” pessimism and giving him a basic hope in 8, or how he can’t make Luthor see things straight through his compassion and humility in 5.

    Damn, sorry… went for too long. Gotta go listen to the rest.

    Comment by Carl Weathers — September 23, 2008 @ 1:47 am

  3. And I’m not entirely sure it’s that clear cut on the matter of “there is just Clark Kent”, considering his speech pattern change drastically (as well as other subleties around his “voice”) — and is the point of the final scene in the first issue, where a sheepish man with extreme low self-steem stepping on egg shells suddenly speaks firmly to Lois’ surprise as he does a strip tease and flashes her in the middle of the street (or even on their dinner on the Titanic, when Superman shows his “Clark-speak” persona when talking about the creepy Titanic menu).

    And, damn, you people piled up on Joseph eh?

    Comment by Carl Weathers — September 23, 2008 @ 3:20 am

  4. While I agree it’s important to unpick Superman’s specialness from the specialness of his actions for precisely the reasons given, I think it’s pretty much nonsense to suggest that Morrison wasn’t painting Superman as a Christ analogue. Of course the character as presented isn’t an exact fit, and of course Christians will likely see more problems with the idea than will those of us who don’t have an in-depth knowledge of Christian doctrine, but nevertheless the intention is clearly there. In fact I’d go as far as to say that the series would have been significantly less powerful if it didn’t tap into the Christ story, and I’d be very surprised indeed if Grant Morrison wasn’t thinking precisely that when he put finger to keyboard.

    That said, I think too much can and is being made of the comparison, and I can see why a card carrying Christian might want to distance herself from that reading

    Comment by Zom — September 23, 2008 @ 8:02 am

  5. Hm. Two things.

    Carl, I should have been a lot more careful with the ‘his compassion wasn’t tested’ argument. You’re basically right. I was probably thinking about the more traditional interpretations of the character.

    Zom, I think that Superman shares a lot of superficial similarities with the popular view of Jesus Christ. I don’t know how many of these similarities are intentional, or how many of them are based on the ubiquity of the Christ myth in Western culture. I’d imagine that most of the stories that contributed to the character were profoundly influenced by Christ’s story. On the other hand, I also think that in All Star Superman, Morrison tried to expand the character by introducing (or emphasizing, take your pick) shamanic and prophetic traits to the character.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to fully explain the nuances of my argument (due to the lengthy and pointless debate with Joe), but I had no intention of arguing that the Christ story plays no role in All-Star Superman. However, I would argue that Superman is far less of a Christ analogue in All-Star Superman than he is in most Superman titles, and I would imagine that Morrison’s familiarity with the myths and traditions of other cultures, and some modern (and secular) interpretations of the prophetic tradition played some role in that.

    Comment by Jamaal — September 23, 2008 @ 9:31 am

  6. Yes, I think that’s true. Morrison was just as clearly weaving in other traditions, most notably Greek mythology.

    You really should consider writing a post unpacking your your thoughts, Jamaal. I for one would be very interested in reading it.

    (We have two ASS posts on the way, but as they’re being written by guest writers I have no idea when they’ll be finished. One of them in particular should appeal to folks around these parts)

    Comment by Zom — September 23, 2008 @ 10:23 am

  7. Zom, my interpretation of the Christ story has always been that God loved us so much he made an aspect of himself human so that he could directly bring us his word and have that aspect experience humanity. Even when he is flesh, Christ is always divine, he may experience humanity but his origin is heavenly.

    I’ve never liken Jor-El to god, even when played by Brando. I feel like the story is more special since I see it as closer to the shaman/prophet aspect. There is something much more interesting about this, especially when you think about how Superman is not the only person in this story with special powers.

    Comment by Pedro Tejeda — September 23, 2008 @ 10:46 am

  8. It should probably be said at this point that Buddhist bardo concept is referenced in the last ish…

    Comment by Zom — September 23, 2008 @ 11:06 am

  9. I thought you guys were a little rough with Joe. And wrong. ;)

    Jor-El sends his only child to Earth. Even in the time he was dead in this issue, he talks to Jor-El who sends his only son back to make his final sacrifice to save humanity. He sends his child off to die to save the world and then come back to, ostensibly, heaven.

    Even Luthor winds up being brought to God a bit in the end, given what the characters discuss as happening off panel. Superman’s approach to Luthor most of the time is to point out that he is only rebeling against Superman because he has closed off his heart and mind to seeing Superman’s true purpose (quite like anyone denying the Word of God is seen as being). Christ is one of the few that consistently demonstrated love to someone demonstrating themselves to be a sinner and a denier of the Word of God.

    You know…thinking about it…one could make a case for Luthor being the anti-Christ in the last act. And Superman’s return from death (correct me if I’m wrong, but Christ was the only one to be resurrected) could be seen as returning for the end of days.

    And Pedro? Not all Christians see Christ as always being more divine than human. So, while I think it is fair to say Superman doesn’t fit your image of Christ/messiah (even more than just having a different opinion is fair), it isn’t quite fair to insist that Superman absolutely doesn’t fit the image of Christ.

    And Jammal & Pedro? Just because the Christ comparisons are easy doesn’t make them wrong.

    Comment by Kevin Huxford — September 23, 2008 @ 4:13 pm

  10. >>>>Not all Christians see Christ
    >>>>as always being more divine than human

    Those people aren’t really Christians! C’mon. They’re christians without a capital C. They just don’t get it (and I heard they have some other weird stuff too). They’re just in it when you depower Superjesus to some hooker-friendly possee-of-12 dude. They just don’t understand how difficult it is to accept the miraculous aspects. All the peace-loving namby pamby bull is easy, that’s unimportant — yeah, yeah, “faggody hugs of rainbows”. Anyone can go for that! No. Being a wife-beater while being able to believe I am saved because I know how to believe Jesus was a magical man who magically died for my sins, who could take Mel Gibson’s S&M beatings like a man, that’s the tough and important part.
    (/David Cross voice)

    But I really liked Jamaal and Pedro’s insistence on the “message” (and being Pa Kent’s “message”) being treated as independent of the Special Man (even if he is Teh Special — and even if I see attempts in Christ-like parallels from Morrison), even if I didn’t agreed entirely on all points with them and thought there was a bit of excessive defensiveness against (and too little opening to) Joe’s points in a way that time could have been used to spawn more interesting and constructive discussion as it happened on the past.

    PS: I thought I’d see a important aspect of Secret Invasion being discussed on this site, but never seen it. The overall “muslims = non-human green alien monsters” undertone of the crossover, the stink of right-wing extremism, and the overall implications in the text’s sudden willing openess towards their characters killing (and from a company who has ads for the military on the outside of the stories as well as the inside). I’ve only seen Savage Critics commenting on it without a “Limbaugh… for men” whiff to it (as well as some there commenting on the post). Am I the only one who did a double take that something like that is a major summer event?

    Comment by Mick — September 23, 2008 @ 5:25 pm

  11. Yeah, I liked that the talk was of him spreading his human father’s message. I’m sure someone with more time on their hands than me could probably find a way to make Jor-El, Clark/Kal-El and Jonathan Kent into “the father, the son & the holy ghost/spirit”, though.

    It isn’t that I see no validity in what Jammal and Pedro are saying, just that there was a little brow-beating of Joe (along with much talking over him in a manner that seemed almost hostile at times) and dismissal of his opinion before he even had a chance to state it.

    I think it is ballsy to let a story that essentially uses Skrulls as an analog for muslim extremists, but the kind of ballsy that I admire rather than condemn. But that’s for another discussion somewhere on the ‘net.

    Comment by Kevin Huxford — September 24, 2008 @ 12:15 am

  12. Kevin,

    I believe I addressed some of your arguments in my previous comment. The parallels between Superman and Jesus Christ are clear, and have been evident in the Superman narrative for a really long time. I think that All Star Superman emphasized Superman’s other character traits, ones in which his relationship with humanity resembled that of a prophet/shaman more than a messiah. Although it’s never a great idea to attempt to divine authorial intent, I think that this approach was intentional, particularly when one views All-Star Superman in the context of Morrison’s other work (especially the non DCU work).

    I won’t get into a religious argument with you, but I think that the comparisons made in your first response can be made for any story about the lone survivor of an alien civilization. One can argue that similarities in plot (especially when you remove salient details) indicate that the themes are identical, but I think that overall message of the story is more important. For example, one of the problems that I have with your comparison is that Jor-El is not God, nor is he written to be a God-like figure. Is he supposed to be wise? Sure. But there’s no indication (in ASS) that he is meant to represent the Old-Testament version of God, or that Superman is intended to represent a bridge between two flawed traditions (which is a significant element of the Christ story).

    As far as Secret Invasion goes, I would only consider the Skrull = muslim extremist a ‘ballsy’ metaphor if the story dealt with the issue in an intelligent way. So far, that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least in the main series. But I guess we’ll see.

    Comment by Jamaal Thomas — September 24, 2008 @ 10:14 am

  13. Just a Thought:

    I don’t think Siegel and Shuster originally thought of Superman as Jesus. I believe their original intent (as seen in the Superman Hardcover dealing with the Superman phenomenon) was that Superman was Moses.

    Discuss…

    Comment by gary ancheta — September 24, 2008 @ 4:15 pm

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